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March 19, 2009
It's no wonder South Africa haven't won a toss this series. They haven't been turning up until midway through the matches. A common theme from the South African players and coaching staff has been the disappointment that although they have finished the Tests well, poor starts on the first couple of days have left them with too large a recovery task.
The series is lost but at least they have ended that trend. It was a distinctly zippier South Africa that took the field on the first day at Newlands. The fast men bowled with speed and menace and the spinner Paul Harris, although he didn't get enormous turn, was a handful thanks to his drift and subtle variations. After a couple of simple catches were dropped early, they were also sharp in the field.
"It's nice to rock up on day one for a change to a Test match," Harris said. "We have rocked up on day three on the previous two and we've let ourselves down. It's great for us as a bowling unit to rock up on day one and that's probably the best we've bowled in a long time."
Crucially, Dale Steyn set the tone for his team-mates with his most consistently threatening day of the series. He finished with 4 for 56 and regained the dash that was his trademark in Australia. Steyn thumped a bouncer into the helmet of Andrew McDonald and bowled Michael Clarke with a pearler, a delivery that pitched in line, straightened slightly, beat the outside edge and clipped the top of off stump.
Just as important were the efforts of Harris, who tossed the ball up to tempt the Australians and collected three wickets. There was a gusty wind blowing across the ground and it caused trouble for Simon Katich and Phillip Hughes, both of whom fell when they tried to slog sweep Harris and misread the drift, Hughes lbw and Katich top-edging a catch.
"It's a different skill to bowl into this wind and I really love it," Harris said. "Today the wind held it up so it wasn't easy to come down and hit the ball, especially cross-bat shots weren't easy against the spin bowlers. If you could come down and hit straight maybe it was a touch easier.
"It didn't go for him [Katich] today. On another day he probably would have slog-swept that and it would have gone for four and everyone would have said ra-ra. That's how the Aussies play spin. They come at you and they give you opportunities to get wickets."
While Harris' main weapon was his drift, Australia's debutant legspinner Bryce McGain did find some turn when he bowled two overs late in the day as South Africa made a strong reply to Australia's 209. Harris expected the slow bowlers to come into the match significantly over the next few days.
"History says it does turn here. In the last few Tests we've played here it has spun quite a bit," he said. "I think it will turn as the match goes on, days three, four and five. It's really slow so it's hard work for the seamers."
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